I�ve been having a running conversation with Jim McGeough, the CEO of
Digital Earth Systems, Inc. (DES), developer of GeoMode, a software-only
locating system used to power location-based services (LBS). I�ll be the
first to admit that the whole LBS arena has been daunting to understand.
There are many players who all tout their wares but few who lay out what
is needed to provide a complete solution. Mr. McGeough has been patient
with me, and for the first time I feel like I have a sense of the
categories of players out there. Of course some fall into two or more, but
this classification clears things up nicely.
The first category, LOCATION TECHNOLOGIES, refers to the companies and
their respective tools that can locate a wireless device. Their job is to
capture the location and covert it into some meaningful X,Y. The methods
of doing that, in simple terms, number four. (1) Cell-id simply locates
the nearest tower, and delivers a location within a few kilometers.
Enhanced Cell-id can get a better fix. (2) E-OTD/TOA (Enhanced Observed
TimeDifference/Time of Arrival) uses special transmitters, receivers and
Rf signals (above and beyond those used to transmit the calls) to
determine the distance of a device from several towers. Some
straightforward math can then determine the location. It�s more accurate
than �raw� Cell-id but someone (the carrier, and later, perhaps the
user) must pay to put the new hardware up on all those towers. According
to Mr. McGeough that method seemed like a great way to go back when the
phone companies were doing well, but now presents quite a significant
financial challenge. (3) GPS uses receivers integrated into the mobile
device to communicate with the GPS satellite constellation. The challenges
to GPS include dependence on satellites, increased price of handsets with
the integrated GPS chip and possible signal availability issues in certain
GPS restricted environments. (4) A software only approach pioneered by DES
develops a mathematical model of signal strength in an area. After adding
updates from ground truth data, the model predicts locations based on a
device�s signal strength. Unlike E-OTD/TOA, it requires no additional
hardware on the towers or in the phones and can be quite accurate. Other
options combine one or more of these technologies in �hybrid�
solutions to serve both coverage area variations as well as consumer
preferences. Hybrid solutions may add the cost of both solutions to the
overall price tag.
The second category of player is LOCATION PLATFORM DEVELOPERS. Mr.
McGeough describes the products of the these companies as �the
middleware which connects the infrastructure management/billing systems to
the applications and X,Y location provider. Platforms also provide API
access to 3rd party developers so they can easily build applications
without having to worry about the middleware/integration bits.� Mr.
McGeough argues that �a true platform should a) support LBS applications
from all sources and b) promote/support interoperability amongst
multi-source applications. Additionally, a platform provider must take
care of the back-end; the integration of their platform to the
infrastructure - whether it�s the Internet or intranet or phone company
environment, all of which should include billing and provisioning.
Ideally, a platform provider should support the use of applications which
extend across the enterprise in any industry.�I was curious about the
role of this group based on MapInfo�s statement during last week�s
earnings conference call that the company was far more interested in being
a platform provider than an application developer. Will a GIS company like
MapInfo really be interested in hosting applications from, say, ESRI?
Perhaps not, but a more �pure� platform developer, like SignalSoft, is
happy to work with ESRI (and others) and may find less direct competition
since ESRI (and others) are only in the application business.
The third category on the list is APPLICATION DEVELOPERS. One
application of course, the one driving this whole industry, is E911. Other
examples include routing, traffic information, telematics; these are the
end user services. Autodesk, Intergraph (IntelliWhere), ESRI and others
are aiming at the application side, though not necessarily at emergency
services. From my perspective, this is the part of the story GIS companies
understand the best. Still, those companies that are moving deeply into
enterprise solutions � and thus know how to link up to existing business
systems - may be ready to provide effective platforms.
The final category in Mr. McGeough�s map of LBS is titled
PROVISIONING. It includes data providers and consultants � those who
complete the offering of the application developer. That category I see
more tightly knit into the application developers since there are already
long-standing relationships here. GDT, Navigation Technologies, TeleAtlas,
PlanGraphics and ASI all have strong existing relationships with the
GIS-turned LBS application developers.
As I�ve suggested, exactly how many of these categories a company
chooses to participate in varies. MapInfo seems to want to be both a
platform and an application developer. They may also play a role in
provisioning since they continue to be a data provider. Cambridge
Positioning Systems provides applications and has its own location
technology offering. Further, different partnerings from different
categories are possible. DES, a location positioning technology provider,
has partnered with LocatioNet, a platform developer. SignalSoft, a
platform developer, has partnered with long lists of location technology,
content, hardware, network, application and service providers (such as
Cell-Loc, MapQuest, Geodan and SchlumbergerSema) to round out its
So, with all this technology, ingenuity, and an FCC mandate, why does
the LBS marketplace appear to be stalled?
The platform and application companies are waiting for the telcos to
choose a positioning technology, all the while remaining �open.�
McGeough refers to this as �agnostic.� He feels the waiting is slowing
down the adoption of LBS. He argues that platform developers should do
their homework, pick a location technology partner and start
The telco buyers of this technology are also challenged. After years of
testing technology to meet the FCC E911 requirements, all but one carrier
has requested and received an extension on implementation. GIS software
vendors, data providers and consultants who chose to play in the above
arenas stand to gain quite a lot when the LBS applications and services
find their way to paying customers.
Stay tuned. LBS is still in its infancy.
Warning: main(http://sparc.profsurv.com/gismonitor/feedback.php) [function.main]: failed to open stream: HTTP request failed! HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found
in /home/sites/www.gismonitor.com/web/articles/comment/111501LBS.php on line 165
Warning: main() [function.include]: Failed opening 'http://sparc.profsurv.com/gismonitor/feedback.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/lampp/lib/php') in /home/sites/www.gismonitor.com/web/articles/comment/111501LBS.php on line 165